October Issue 2015

By | News & Politics | Published 4 years ago

It should have been a moment of great pride for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when Pakistan’s teenaged Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousafzai, addressed the opening session of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in New York’s Central Park. And a good photo op to blunt some of his countrymen’s unhappiness at visuals of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s face-to-face with Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. But Sharif decided to give it a miss. As he did a luncheon hosted by Obama because, unlike Modi, he was not seated at the main table. However, he did wave out to his ‘favourite’ adversary at the UN Peacekeeping Summit and got a wave back — the Pak-India media fought over who waved first (when will we grow up?). But that didn’t break the ice between them.

Temperatures in India dipped further at Sharif’s mention of the K-word in his UN speech, and Indian External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, followed it up with a terse response.

Icy winds continue to sweep the subcontinent, but come December and the subject of climate change — of another kind — is expected to come up at the UN Summit, COP21, in Paris, starting November 30. Pakistan, which is listed among the world’s top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change, has yet to find a replacement for its sacked environment minister. At the last conference, we were represented by a railways minister.

Incidentally, it’s not only an environment minister that we lack. Pakistan is still without a foreign minister, a law minister and a defence minister. And even when we do have a minister, the Sharifs prefer to keep the reins of the ministry in their own hands — often with alarming results. Shahbaz Sharif’s handling of the controversial Nandipur plant, in the presence of a full-time water and power minister, ended up becoming a bigger scandal than it was in the PPP days.

And while the Sharifs have failed to cover up Nandipur (and the LNG import scam), they are determined to put the lid on another scandal because it involves their best friend, Saudi Arabia – and their business interests .

The government has asked PEMRA to issue a notification warning television channels against criticising the Saudi government over its mishandling of the  Haj stampede under Article 18 of the constitution, which restricts comments that may affect relations with ‘friendly’ countries. Would the Pakistan government care to clarify which countries it views as being off-limits – or is Saudi Arabia the only country considered “friendly” to Pakistan?

Sadly, freedom of speech is not only under threat from PEMRA, but also from the men in black coats. Some of them are demanding that the licenses of two senior advocates, Asma Jahangir and Khalid Ranjha, be cancelled, for contesting the Lahore High Court order to TV channels to black out speeches of Altaf Hussain (whom they charge with the murder of several lawyers on March 12, 2007 in Karachi during the lawyer’s movement). Ms Jahangir has been one of the staunchest critics of Hussain’s fascist politics. The lawyers are deliberately confusing Jahangir’s principled stand for what is essentially an issue of freedom of speech, with support for Hussain.

But in a country where the lawyers’ fraternity sees nothing wrong in garlanding Salman Taseer’s assassin and hounding the judge who awarded the death penalty to Mumtaz Qadri out of the country,  anything is possible.

The bad news is that Pakistan has slipped to 126th position among 140 countries in the competitiveness rankings of the World Economic Forum this year.

The world moves on, but our leaders are caught in a time warp.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.

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